Physical therapy telehealth

physical therapy telehealth, telehealth physical therapy, PT telehealth, telehealth PT

Physical therapy telehealth was one of the ways physical therapists created to deliver outpatient therapy services in a way that kept both clients and healthcare providers safe when COVID-19 became a global-wide pandemic in 2020. 

To minimize lapses in therapy, many insurance companies decided to allow virtual physical therapy. Many providers and clients took advantage of this change in policy. Today, the future of insurance-covered physical therapy telehealth remains to be seen but for now, many therapists and clients have experienced the benefits of physical therapy telehealth. In this article we will discuss many of the benefits to starting a physical therapy telehealth practice as well as some important things to take into consideration when doing so.

Is telehealth effective for physical therapy?

For those of you still considering whether physical therapy telehealth is right for your practice, let’s discuss some of its benefits:

Accessibility: Accessibility to physical therapy services can be a significant barrier for those who rely on others for rides, those who live far from the clinic and those who’s schedule allows little time for the commute and wait necessary for receiving typical outpatient services. Physical therapy telehealth allows clients to receive therapy in their homes, thus eliminating the need to drive to a clinic and possibly wait a long duration for their appointments. This increases the likelihood they can make their appointments and follow the plan of care through virtual physical therapy. 

Personalization: Physical therapy telehealth allows the therapist to create interventions and a home exercise program that are tailored specifically to a patient’s home environment. It also provides an opportunity to involve other family members or caregivers in virtual physical therapy. This personalization can increase the likelihood of adherence to a home exercise program and success of treatment.

Health and Safety: The COVID-19 pandemic made us all more aware of the risks that many immunocompromised individuals take when they enter the community. Fears of getting sick can be a serious barrier to receiving the physical therapy one needs. The option to complete your virtual physical therapy within the safety of your home can help solve this issue.

Access to quality care: Prior to the availability of physical therapy telehealth services, clients were limited to the providers in their geographic area. For the high number of clients that live in suburban or rural areas, their choices of care can be quite limited. Physical therapy telehealth services provide clients with access to therapists that are experts in their field, no matter where they are in their state. 

Balance the budget with quality care: Therapists never want to sacrifice quality of patient care in order to save money. Virtual physical therapy provides an inherent way to lower costs without sacrificing patient care. With physical therapy telehealth services, the need for costly equipment and clinic space is significantly diminished.

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What you need to get started with physical therapy telehealth

Starting a physical telehealth practice requires several steps to ensure that you are compliant with privacy laws and with the rules of the insurance providers with whom you contract as well as ensure that you can still provide effective care. Here are some tips to get you started with virtual physical therapy: 

Privacy is essential: Using a HIPAA compliant video-conferencing software is an essential step to ensure your clients’ data and privacy are maintained. In addition to using the right software, you want to consider other individuals present around you and the patient to be sure you are maintaining their privacy during your virtual physical therapy session. 

Know your contracted insurances’ policies: As of May 2023 many insurance companies including Medicare and Medicaid are still covering physical therapy telehealth, but these policies are continuing to be reviewed by insurance companies to determine their longevity. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), for example, at the beginning of 2023, published their Final Rule which indicated that coverage for Telehealth Services would end 151 days after the official end of the public health emergency (related to COVID-19 pandemic). This led most therapists to anticipate the end of telehealth services as early as June 2023. As of May 9, 2023, however, CMS updated the List of Telehealth Services webpage stating:

We have updated and simplified the Medicare Telehealth Services List to clarify that these services will be available through the end of [calendar year] 2023, and we anticipate addressing updates to the Medicare Telehealth Services List for [calendar year] 2024 and beyond through our established processes as part of the [calendar year] 2024 Physician Fee Schedule proposed and final rules.

If you contract with Medicare, Medicaid, federal, state or commercial insurances you need to read their policies carefully in order to determine which CPT codes are covered for physical therapy telehealth services and any other special rules or regulations that need to be followed. 

Determine how you will collect data: Because of the nature of physical therapy telehealth, you will no longer be able to place your hands on your clients to assess or evaluate their strength, range of motion, tissue mobility and so forth. While this may pose a challenge initially, with some careful preparation you will be ready with functional and subjective outcome measures that you can administer during your evaluation. This information allows you to track patient outcomes and substantiate the medical necessity of your virtual physical therapy treatment.

Develop new marketing strategies: Physical therapy telehealth frees you of some geographical restrictions. Instead of being limited to clients within a reasonable circumference from your location, you can suddenly offer your virtual physical therapy services to clients all over your state. Not only does this give you an opportunity to increase your patient caseload, it can also provide an opportunity to target a specific patient population you may be interested in treating by increasing their access to your services. To take advantage of this you will need to update your marketing practices.

As you can see, with careful preparation there are many benefits to providing physical therapy telehealth. 

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If you are looking to start your physical therapy telehealth practice or need a better EMR/EHR system that can integrate HIPAA-compliant video technology, look no further than TheraPlatform, an all-in-one EHR, practice management and teletherapy tool built specifically for therapists. Sign up for a free, 30-day trial with no credit card required. Cancel anytime.

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